Friday, June 8, 2007

A Little Taste of Democracy in Beijing

Nearly 6,000 families who live in a run down housing complex get a chance to vote tomorrow.

They will decide if their old houses called "tongzilou" from the 1950s should be demolished and make way for luxury apartments. They're basically small rooms and everyone shares the washrooms and cooking facilities.

A real estate developer has been trying to move into Jiuxianqiao district, but the residents are in a disagreement over how much compensation is enough.

And because talks have stalled with the 20,000 or so people, the developer has finally decided to hold a vote, more like a referendum to see if the houses should be torn down or not.

District officials and the developer would like to see everyone move out to avoid the "nail house" episode in Chongqing, where a couple refused to move out of their tiny house while bulldozing crews dug a giant crater around them.

Things are a bit complicated as 707 of the families have property rights over their house and are entitled to move back after construction is completed. But there are many others, especially seniors who have small pensions and can't afford to move anywhere else as more and more of these inexpensive housing complexes get demolished to make way for urban renewal projects.

Tomorrow from 9am to 9pm, each of the 5,473 families in Jiuxianqiao will have one vote. If the results are 80 per cent or more in favour of tearing down the place, everyone will have to move. If it is less than 80 per cent, then the developer will give up and let the residents stay.

What's also interesting is that not only the developer is shelling out compensation to the families, but the government is too.

I'll let you know how the vote goes. How refreshing to know that people are willing to try something democratic to settle something.

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